I was looking forward to taking the black veil, but somehow the Mother
had made a firm resolve to keep me, if possible, from taking this step. I
may be permitted to write a few words about the present Lady Prioress of
Llanthony. This lady took novice vows with me in 1869. She gained a great
reputation for sanctity by an assumed air of humility, and by performing
innumerable voluntary penances and antics, which put her less saintly
sisters to much discomfort and disgust. I recollect her once sitting next
to me in the refectory at dinner, when I saw a roasted maggot on her
plate, which made me feel quite ill. I signed to her, fearing she would
eat it unperceived, whereupon she at once took it upon her fork, salted
it, and put it into her mouth, looking the very picture of goodness.
She would of her own free will throw herself down on the floor, and
meekly kiss everybody’s feet, beg their prayers, and thank them for
bearing with her, saying she was not worthy to be amongst us, etc. This
continued until we were all perfectly sick of her, as we knew quite well
by her other words and actions that she considered herself the best in
the house. Sometimes she would bang her head purposely against the wall;
in fact, she copied every saint, whose life she happened to be reading
at the time, in his or her foolish actions, whilst if they did anything
sensible, she left it out. St. Mary Magdalene of Piazzi, was her special
favourite. Sister Wereburgh once planted a rotten cucumber, to see if
our Lord would make it grow into a plant, which, of course, He did not,
though she quite thought He would. This was in imitation of a St. Teresa,
who, we read, once gave a rotten cucumber to one of her novices in order
to test her obedience, desiring her to plant it in the garden. The novice
obeyed without a question, when, in reward for her perfect obedience,
a plant sprang from it, and bore fruit. This is one of the miracles
recorded in the life of Saint Teresa. Sister Wereburgh would obtain
leave to go without her dinner, and fast till tea-time, very often, but
was desired to have some lunch, which would consist of dry bread. The
Mother Superior at that time never asked her what lunch she had, but
at last some of us found out that she had a good helping of bread and
butter, and a good-sized cup of hot cocoa. She was housekeeper then, and
thus had no difficulty in taking what she wanted. Thus she really had
more than we did at dinner, which often consisted of two small sardines,
three or four small potatoes, and half a slice of bread, thinly cut, and
some water. As I do not wish to appear in the least vindictive, I will
not now add more about this sister. She was the cause of distress to more
persons than myself, though she managed to keep herself in favour with
Father Ignatius, and became quite his model nun.

I will now tell my readers more of my experiences at Llanthony. I cannot
say Father Ignatius gave us a very warm welcome to our new convent.
In the first place, I remember well how dreadfully he frightened me
by telling us that the place was haunted by evil spirits, as well as
good. We were told by Ignatius that he had watched a whole procession
of devils cross the church, while they were at matins. The brothers,
we were assured, had often seen them about the house. One brother at
the monastery declared that he had felt their hot breath on his cheek.
This brother was a life-vowed monk, though only about twenty-one years
of age. He ran away and came back so many times, that at last he said,
“To prevent myself from ever returning, I shall get married,” which he
fulfilled by marrying an opera girl. I was told that afterwards he became
a billiard-marker.

The Novice-mistress came into our room one day, saying:

“I have seen him.”

“Seen whom?” we asked.

“The devil,” she replied.

I was really frightened by the tales of the devils who inhabited
the cloister; and to add to my terror, Father Ignatius and the
Novice-mistress told me:

“Sister Agnes is SURE to see him.”

I used to go about night and day, making the sign of the cross, praying
to our Lord, the blessed Virgin, and to our holy Father St. Benedict, not
to let me see anything, either good or evil. Sometimes I did not hear the
call for the night office, and would only awake at the sound of the bell.
This necessitated my going down a long dark passage alone, and returning
alone to and from the church; besides, I had to stay in the church alone
after matins and lauds, to recite the whole of the Lamentations of
Jeremiah, as a penance for not rising when called. Not hearing was no
excuse; and if we only remained in bed thirty seconds after being called,
and attempted to leave the church with the others, the Novice-mistress
would make signs for the sister who failed to rise, to stop and perform
her penance. It used to take me a long time to do my penance, as I kept
leaving off to watch for a devil.

There is supposed to be a miraculous light over the “altar,” which was
pointed out to us on the first day of our arrival at Llanthony. I looked
for a long time, but failed to see anything but the sunshine. At last the
reverend Father said:

“Do you see it, Sister Agnes?”

I replied, “No, dear Father, I do not see anything but cobwebs and

I must not omit to write on a very distressing subject, and that is the
ill-treatment I received from the Lady Prioress. After I had been about a
week at Llanthony, she sent for me. On coming into her presence I knelt
at her feet, and she gave me the hem of her dress to kiss. It should be
remembered that we were not usually allowed to speak to the Superior
without first prostrating our faces to the ground, and kissing the hem of
her “holy habit.”[12] But I had better give the very words of the rule:
“To receive the words of our Superior, humbly kneeling, with eyes fixed
on the ground.” Should we break this rule, the order was “to receive any
penance our Superior liked to inflict.” My Superior on this occasion
said, “Sister Agnes, you often say you wish to submit to me.” I replied,
“Yes, dear Mother.” On which she said, “Hold your tongue, and listen to
me, for now I am going to prove you; and the first thing, before I say
any more, I must ask you to take off your _scapular_, for you are not
fit to wear it.” You, my readers, must please understand that to give
up the scapular was a terrible disgrace, and it quite cut any sister
off from many privileges which are highly prized, such as communion and
recreation. She now imposed a severe penance upon me. I had to become _a
door-mat_; that is, I had to lie prostrate in front of the church door,
so that nuns, girls, monks, and boys should walk over me, and I was not
allowed to get up until the last one had entered the church. I did not
mind the nuns and girls treading upon me, but my nature did recoil from
lying down for men to walk over me. They themselves hesitated a moment,
and then deliberately walked over me. They were under obedience, and had
they refused, would have incurred punishment. This penance was to last
seven times a day for a week. The next penance she imposed was to make
me lie prostrate on my face in front of my stall for a week during the
night office, which lasts from 2 a.m. to 3.45 a.m. Then a third penance I
had to undergo was to be deprived of my breakfast, and thus to go without
food till 12.30 p.m.; and when I was permitted to eat, I remember I had
to take my plate and kneel before each sister, and beg food from each
in turn. Though they afforded me a generous supply, I was often too ill
to partake of it. After enduring two days’ fasting in this fashion, the
Novice-mistress begged that I might have a cup of tea, and a piece of
bread at 9 a.m. She told me I must eat this, or I should become seriously
ill. Ah! I did feel ill, quite wretched! but yet I longed to be quite
good, pure, and holy, and this made me submit so willingly to these
dreadful penances. Often at this and subsequent periods my life was such
a burden to me, that I have begged and prayed that God would let me die.
“O God, if you would only grant me death!” has been my prayer over and
over again.

At that time I had not allowed myself to think of giving up convent
life. Such a thought to me then would have been sacrilege, and the very
greatest unfaithfulness to the Lord, to whom I believed myself espoused.
These words which had been repeated in my ears, sounded loudly:

“Knowest thou not that the novitiate is a solemn espousal to
our Lord Jesus Christ, and the consummation of the bridal tie
with thy Lord will be expected of thee when thou shalt take the
final vows?”

I could not forget that when I had been asked at the service of taking
novice vows.

“What will become of you if you ever turn back, after taking up the
golden plough?”

I had to make this reply: “I should then be unfit for the kingdom of God.”

Awful words were these, words which seemed like the announcement of our
own eternal damnation. Father Ignatius now says, “Why did you do these
penances? You were at liberty to refuse, and leave the convent.” But I
would ask my readers to try and understand what _that_ implied, what
terrible _mental torture_ (a form of torture more cruel and bitter than
that imposed of old by the Inquisition) such a step involved. I am afraid
no one _can_ realize it who has not herself passed through it. It is a
maddening kind of torture, because one is strained up to such a pitch,
and made to think of the awful sin against God and one’s own soul by
going back; when for all eternity, by a little submission here, one would
hereafter become the spotless bride of the Lamb, and gain a glorious
crown to lay at His feet.

I am sure that never did any girl enter a convent, and remain in it for
so many years, with a more sincere intention of serving and pleasing God
through the will of her Superior than I did. I had been told many times

“God in His wisdom has appointed the reverend Mother, and declares that
He will only accept your obedience through her, and through her alone.”

And yet she was the very one that made obedience impossible, by giving me
rules that were beyond my power to fulfil; and often orders were given
me, which I fulfilled, and yet would after all be reprimanded severely
for daring to take upon myself to do them.

After suffering much at her hands for three years, I became convinced
that she would never treat me better, and I made up my mind to leave the
convent. When I asked her permission to leave, she always replied, “Yes,
you can go. You may go at this moment if you like.” Yet she never did
anything to further my departure. How could I go without clothes to put
on? and I had nothing but my serge habit and cap, and was without money
for my fare. Besides, it was many miles through a wild country to the
nearest railway station, and I was ignorant of the way, and had been shut
away from the world for sixteen years, from the early age of fifteen.
The only journeys I had made were from convent to convent, and even then
we had thick veils over our faces all the way, and were told not to put
them up, though we were in close carriages. I wrote several times to my
sister, asking her to send me some money to pay for my journey, and to
tell me how to get to her, and to meet me. Over and over again I wrote to
her, and received no reply. At last I discovered that my letters were not
sent. Yet the world is told that nuns have _free_ intercourse with their
friends outside. _Nothing of the kind!_

At last I wrote another letter, and forced myself into my Superior’s
presence (for she had now forbidden me to go near her), and asked her to
allow the letter to go by this post. I told her that it was to my sister,
and that I had written for journey money, as I intended to leave. At this
she quite raved, saying:

“Go out of my room this instant! I shall not allow your letter to go to
your sister. You write so badly that it is a disgrace to the convent; and
your other sister has written asking me not to let you write to her, as
your letters worry her so.”

This was not true, as my sister has since told me that she wrote to the
Superior requesting her kindly to give me a few details about my mother’s
death. I had often written to my sister asking for a piece of my mother’s
hair, and it worried her so, as my darling mother was burnt to death, and
there was nothing left of her but a charred coal. I had been told only
that she was dead, and, very naturally, I wanted to know all about it,
and continually asked for the circumstances of her death, and a piece of
her hair.

The reverend Mother knew all about it, my sister having written it in
the first letter announcing my mother’s death, and yet she never told
me what had taken place. My sister had now again written to the Superior
asking her to tell me all about it, so that I should not be always
asking the same question, which so worried my sister to have repeated
unnecessarily as she thought.[13] My brothers, I learnt afterwards, had
sent me their photographs, but they had been returned, after which they
never wrote to me again, and I had meanwhile been wondering why I never
heard from them.

I now felt utterly desolate to think I could not write to my sister, and
I was in terror what would happen to me next: somehow I did not like to
run away, as it then seemed to me dishonourable, so I said to a young
sister, who I knew would report it:

“You know, I have asked over and over again to be allowed to go, and
the reverend Mother will not let me. Now I am determined to watch my
opportunity and run away; I shall stop at the first house I come to, and
send some one up here to ask for money to pay my fare.”

An hour after this, the Novice-mistress came with a sun-bonnet, a black
and white shawl, and a sovereign, saying:

“The reverend Mother says you have asked to go so many times. Now George
is going to the station, and can drive you down there to-morrow. These
are all the clothes she has to give you, and that money” (putting the
sovereign down on the table) “_belongs to the altar_. If you choose to
do so, take it, and you are to take _nothing_ away with you, not even a
change of clothes.”

To this I replied: “Tell the reverend Mother I cannot go out a beggar;
all I want is a change of clothes.”

She sent an answer back by a new sister.

“You came to her a beggar, and you will go away a beggar.”

It may be asked how it was that I felt so determined to leave. Before
going on to relate how at last I did leave, I will mention that which
_provoked_ me to my determination. I am sure that my readers will not
think it a trifling provocation. It was as follows. One day the Mother
Superior summoned us all to chapter, and commenced speaking to us thus:

“My dear children, I have come to the conclusion, which has now for some
time been growing upon me (but I am now convinced of it), that poor
Sister Agnes is _mad_.”

Every one seemed to start at this absurdity. I could only smile. She went
on to say:

“Yes, I am quite convinced of it! and, poor child, this madness will grow
upon her unless you are all very kind to her, and you all know how mad
people are treated. You must never contradict them, and, therefore, you
must never contradict Sister Agnes. If you do, the madness will increase;
you must just say ‘yes’ to everything, unless you know she wants you to
say ‘no’; you need not take the trouble to talk to her, or put yourselves
out for her, unless she asks you a question; then simply smile at her and
say ‘yes.’”

She then turned to me and said:

“I forbid you to go into church at all, or to speak to any one, unless it
is absolutely necessary; but of course you will do as you like about it.”

My first thought was, “What a blessing! for I shall get a little peace
now!” I was in peace for two days, and, if I asked questions about my
work or anything, the sisters all smiled graciously, and nodded their
heads, or replied, “yes.” After two days had passed, I began to wonder
whether I really was mad or not. This thought took such hold upon me
that I would sit for hours with my head in my hands, wondering if I had
really lost my reason. The thought drove sleep from me, and, in fact,
was slowly driving me really mad. I asked that new sister (L⸺ W⸺, from
Devonshire) if she thought I was mad. She told me she did _not_ think me
so; but I supposed that perhaps she only said this to please and humour
me, according to the instructions given by the Mother Superior. She
assured me, however, that she really knew I was not mad. In spite of this
assurance, my mind was in as much doubt as before, and I arrived at the
conclusion that if I was not already mad, I soon should be, with this
awful doubt on my mind.

I again asked leave to go, and the reverend Mother replied before them

“I have nowhere to send you; directly I have, you shall go.”

“But,” I replied, “I want to go to _my sister_.”

Turning to the chapter again, she said:

“I assure you I only keep her here out of love. She is a poor child,
without a friend in the world, entirely dependent on my charity, and that
of the reverend Father.”

A strange suspicion was now borne into my mind, from what the Mother
Superior had said about sending me away when she had a place to send me,
that she was actually trying to drive me mad, and would then send me to a
lunatic asylum. Hence arose my final decision to leave the convent at any

To show my readers the kind of treatment I received from this lady, I
will mention that one evening I was sitting alone, when suddenly I felt a
great pain go through my head—so great that it almost stupified me. Then
I felt a sudden box on my left ear, another on my right. I cried out,
“Oh! oh!” not quite making out what it was, for the first blow had nearly
stunned me.

Then a voice sounded, “I don’t care if I kill you,” and I saw close
to me the Lady Prioress, or the reverend Mother Mary Wereburgh of the
Blessed Sacrament!

O God, Thou knowest what I write is true, without adding to it or taking
aught from it; and yet I had been induced to leave my own precious
mother, and had been told that the love of a _spiritual_ father and
mother and sister was so great, that the love of one’s own parents and
sisters was not to be compared to it. I always craved to be loved. I had
left all my earthly relations only to gain what I was told was a higher,
purer, holier, and more noble love.

Behold my reward! And such shall be yours, my reader, if you should
unhappily follow in my footsteps. Yes, disappointment will follow you,
bitterness of heart beyond all description, a longing to go back to those
dear ones whom you have left, and yet not daring to go lest the curse of
God should fall upon you. I have spent seventeen years in the cloister,
and let me tell you that nearly all, or, at least, a full half of that
period was one of bitter sorrow and disappointment.

It was quite a common thing to have our ears boxed by the Lady Superior.
In consequence, I became quite deaf in one ear, and, consequently, was
often unable to hear the orders given me. I was reported to the reverend
Father for disobedience, and I told him that it was through no fault of
mine that I had failed in obeying orders, but that I had had my ears
boxed to such an extent that I had become quite deaf in one ear.

One day I was coming from nones at 2.45 p.m. This “Mother” commanded me
to stay where I was, and not to return to work, and then said:

“You have got the DEVIL in you, and I am going to beat him out.”

All left the sacristy but myself, the Mother Superior, and one nun,
who was ordered to be present at the casting out of the devil. I was
commanded first to strip. I saw “the Discipline,” with its seven lashes
of knotted whipcord in her hand, and I knew that one lash given (or taken
by oneself) was in reality seven. I should mention that at certain times
it was the rule to discipline oneself.[14]

Now my first thought when commanded to strip was, “I can’t;” it would not
be right or modest to strip (it meant to the waist). Then it came into
my mind that Jesus did not thus think, when the soldiers ordered Him to
strip to be scourged. He simply obeyed, and I felt sure that what He did
I might imitate. So I said inwardly, “Yes, dear Lord, for love of Thee I
can.” Then I began to undress; but when I came to my vest, shame again
overcame me.

“Take that thing off,” said the Mother Superior. I replied, “I cannot,
reverend Mother; it’s too tight.” The nun who was present was told to
help me to get it off. A deep feeling of shame came over me at being half

The Mother then ordered the nun to say the “_Miserere_,” and while it
was recited she lashed me several times with all her strength. I was
determined not to utter a sound, but at last I could not restrain a
smothered groan, whereat she gave me one last and cruel lash, and then

Even three weeks after she had “Disciplined” me, I had a very sore back,
and it hurt me greatly to lie on it (our beds were straw put into sacks).

There was a looking-glass in the room I now occupied (nuns do not usually
have them), and I looked to see if my back was marked, as it was so sore.
Never shall I forget the shock it gave me. I turned quickly away, for my
back was black, blue, and green all over.

I will explain to my readers what “devil” in me it was that the Lady
Prioress had been attempting to drive out. You have seen how very unkind
she had been to me, and, not daring to speak to her, I made a cake, which
I knew her to be very fond of, and sent a note with it, begging her to
be kind to me; and I told her I was willing to do anything if only she
would be kind. I asked what she would have done if kindness had not been
shown to her, when she asked for readmission to the Feltham convent; and
I implored her, by the remembrance of that kindness which had been shown
her, to be kind to me, and I signed myself, “Your loving child, M. A.,”
or words as near to this as I can now remember. This was the “devil” I
had at this and at all other times. The fact is, that I knew too much
about her, which no other sister did, and yet I never even breathed it to
a soul!

Owing to the hard life we had to lead at the convent, I was not at
all strong; in fact, I frequently felt ill and tired. I was often so
weary that I could have laid down and willingly died. I often found it
difficult to walk downstairs and up again in the middle of the night.
The novice-mistress would then sometimes roughly push me, to make me
go faster. I would often faint whilst reciting the Psalms aloud, and
drop down on the floor, thus always hurting my head. If Father Ignatius
happened to be near, they would show me some degree of kindness; but
if he was away, they would drag me out of chapel and try to make me
walk upstairs, or I was roughly pushed or dragged up when I had not the
strength to walk. Once I remember they put me out into the sacristy,
and laid me on the step of the folding door which led to the garden,
and, opening the door wide, they left me there whilst they went back to
prayers. I had fainted, and on recovering I would have given anything for
some water, but not a drop did they give me. After a while I got so cold,
and could not move myself, but, notwithstanding my pitiable condition, I
had to wait till they came out of chapel. I was only partly dressed, and
it was in the depth of winter. The next day I could not speak, and had a
severe attack of bronchitis.[15]

It certainly was no temptation to faint, and they must have known I was
not shamming, because Father Ignatius, who was always very kind in any
illness, once brought Dr. Hanson to see me whilst in a faint, who said,
“It comes from weakness. This young nun is very weak.”

Once the Mother Superior actually pinned a large paper in front of me,
and another on my back. On the latter was written in large letters:
“Jesus”—“Mercy”—“Pray for me”—“Beware of me.” All through that day I had
to wear this, and saw the partly hidden smiles, and heard the loud laugh
of those about me. I did not criticize or make any objection, and tried
to bear with equanimity this humiliation.

At another time she wrote a confession for me to copy, sign, and send
to Father Ignatius. In this confession were these words: “I felt great
repugnance to obey, when reverend Mother desired me to give up all the
letters and books which reverend Father had given me.” This was untrue,
but holy obedience compelled me to write the untruth, and I copied the
confession out, and sent it over to the monastery. In a few hours the
reverend Father came over, called a chapter, and quoted what I had
written as a proof that I would not submit to the reverend Mother.

“But,” I said, “dear Father, I did not feel a repugnance, or let myself
think anything; I obeyed at once.”

“Then why did you write this note to me?”

I replied, “The reverend Mother told me to write it.”

“Did you, dear Mother?” he asked.

“No!” was her answer.

I then said, “Well, she did not exactly tell me. She wrote the
confession, and sent a note telling me to copy and sign it.”

The reverend Father then said, “Give me her note.”

I said, “I cannot, for she told me to send it back to her directly I had
read it, and I did so.”

He then turned to her, and she put on the most innocent face, looking at
the same time aghast at me, and groaned:

“Oh!” she cried, shaking her head, as if it was too awful to listen to
me. After a great deal of talking on their part, I was finally dismissed

“Poor child! She is not accountable for anything she says. She is quite

These words from Father Ignatius, who I thought would at last see how
unjust she was to me, caused me deep grief.

This was by no means the first time I had a false confession to copy,
and send as my own. Mother Cecilia (the Novice-mistress) once gave me a
confession, in her writing, to copy and send to the reverend Father. I
read it, and then knelt down, and kissed the hem of her dress, and said:

“I am very sorry, but I cannot write this, as it is untrue.”

Her reply was, “You can do anything you are told.”

I then knew that I _must_ obey, and therefore I wrote at the end of the

“Dear Father, this is not true, I have only copied it.”

I sealed the letter, and was going to send it, but Mother Cecilia took
it, read it, and severely lectured me, saying:

“You have not a spark of the spirit of obedience in you.”

She often told me to do or say what was not true, and I could not, and
often I used to cry and say:

“Mother mistress, I really do want to be obedient; but that is not true,
and I cannot write it.”

“No,” she would tauntingly reply, “I know you cannot. You have plenty
of sense, you are quick and clever, etc.; but there is one thing you
cannot do. You cannot give up your will, you cannot do as you are told.
Therefore you cannot be a nun.”

The truth was, that they did not want me to become a fully professed
nun, because, as such, I should have had a voice in the community; and
having been with Father Ignatius so long, I was not afraid of him, and
used to speak about everything to him, and let him know what otherwise he
would not have known. In order, then, to gain their own ends, they must
first lower me in his eyes, and prove by all manner of intriguing that I
had “no vocation.” After four years they succeeded in convincing him of
it, and he finally told me I had no vocation for the “religious life.”
He must have been very slow of discernment not to have found that out
before, considering that I had been a sister for seventeen years.

I trust all this will not appear wearisome to my readers. I hope that
this book will be read by many who may possibly have very little idea of
what convent life is. On the surface convent life has a great attraction
for some minds. When we were in Devonshire, a girl of the name of
Lily W., who lived just opposite the convent, was desperately in love
with it, having seen all the glitter and outside show, and heard the
sweet music and singing, and having seen the bridal ceremony of Sister
Ermenild taking the white veil, and observed the peaceful looks of the
nuns whom she watched walking in the garden. I would observe here, that
what _appears_ a peaceful look is simply an attitude that rule drills us
into. Now, Lily W. thought that convent life must be heaven upon earth.
This girl came to us at Llanthony, but she received a very cold welcome.
She was given plenty of hard work, was taken no notice of, and had to
keep silence all day, like the professed novices and nuns, except during
recreation hour. When she had been there three days, she said to me:

“Oh, dear! it is all so different from what I thought.”

She spent her days and nights in sighing and crying, and seemed so
miserable that I remarked to the Prioress:

“Poor Lily seems so miserable, and she is always crying and sighing, more
or less, day and night.”

The Prioress replied, “Serve her right; she should not have pushed
herself into a hornet’s nest. If people will push themselves into a
hornet’s nest, they must expect to be stung.”

Nuns have said to me more than once: “If it were not for my vows, I would
not stay in the convent another day.” Another has said to me:

“Alas! I often look round and think can _this_ be what I gave up my
beautiful home for? If ever a woman came into a convent with a sincere
desire to serve God, I did.”

And I am sure she spoke the truth. Afterwards she became a hard and
tyrannical woman; but it was not her fault; for convent life does one of
two things—it either crushes, or hardens its victims.

I assure my readers that convent life must crush every bit of self out of
its victims. I was crushed by the life, and not seldom felt inclined to
drown myself.

At 1.45 every morning the sisters are called by the words, “Benedicamus
Domino.” Each sister must instantly arise, saying, “Deo gratias,” then
prostrate herself and kiss the floor; and after tidying herself, she
must kneel upright with her back toward the bed, in silent prayer, until
the first chime of the bell ceases. The nuns then form themselves into a
procession, with lighted tapers in their hands, and sing as they go to
church, where they remain, singing, praying, and reciting psalms, etc.,
until 4 a.m. They then retire to their cells, and rest until quarter to
five (unless they have the lamentations of Jeremiah to recite, or it is
Lent, for during that season they remain in church from 2 to 6), when
they are again awakened by the same words, and have the same routine to
perform. Then follows the office of “Prime.” If a priest is there, mass
is said, or sung, after which the “Martyrology” follows, and “prayers
for the faithful departed.” We then remain in silent meditation until
the Angelus bell is rung, when we sing the “Angelus,” and then form in
procession and go to spiritual reading till 8. At that hour the bell
calls us to church again, when we recite the offices of Terce and Sext,
and listen to a meditation. At 8.45 the “Pittance bell” rings, and we
form in procession again, and go into the refectory, where we find
half-a-pint of unsweetened coffee, some dry bread, potatoes, rice or
porridge, and salt, some of which we _must_ eat, whether we are hungry
or not. Many a time, like David, have we mingled our bread with weeping,
and well nigh washed our bed with tears. Of course, the rule about eating
this pittance of a meal did not apply to the Superiors, for they had
whatever they liked, and had it whenever they liked.

At 9 o’clock the bell again rings, and we go to the Sacristy and sing,
“Veni, Creator.” After this the work of the day commences, and real hard
work it is.

But at 12 o’clock (midday) the bell is again rung, and we go to church
and sing the “Angelus,” and listen to a meditation on the blessed
Sacrament from St. Alphonsus Liguori, etc. We then come out of church and
go to chapter, where each sister accuses herself of any fault against
rule. Should a sister omit anything, or her fellow-sisters consider
she has not told everything, it is their duty to say, “I accuse sister
so-and-so of doing, or saying, or leaving undone, such a thing.” It may
be true or false, but the person accused cannot justify herself, while
the sister who has accused her is praised for doing so, and is told
that it wants great courage to perform such a kindness to her sister.
Sometimes (more often than not) the Superior will keep the sisters there
an hour or two accusing some sister, whom she has some special spite
against, of faults she never committed or even thought of, and the least
transgression of rule is severely punished; while want of true charity,
and the Superior’s temper, are highly praised as in accordance with the
will of God.

Besides these daily “chapters,” each day we had to write down every
transgression of rule, and to present the record to the Novice-mistress
every Saturday morning. If she felt inclined, she would write two or
three more pages of our sins, which of course she knew nothing about.
Then she would pass these confessions on to the Mother Prioress, who
would do a little more scribbling, and then, in turn, pass them on to the
reverend Father, who would often write underneath, “Most disgraceful,”
and keep us away from Sunday Communion, and return our books on Monday
morning to commence the same thing over again. Chapter being over, we
went back to work till three, when the bell rang again for nones.

At 3.30 the dinner bell rings, and we all formed in procession, said a
long grace, and then sat down to our meal, consisting of fish or eggs,
vegetables, pudding, or soup, and water. On Sundays we had chicken and
pudding. Flesh meat (with this exception) was not allowed except for the
Superiors, who had it every day, or twice or even three times a day,
except Friday.

At 4 o’clock, the “recreation” bell rings, and again we formed in
procession, and recited a prayer, offering the silence of the day past
to God. And now we all must talk, even though we may have nothing to
speak about. If we keep silence for five minutes, we are supposed to be
in a temper, and the erring sister is told to go to her cell till she is
sent for. At 5 o’clock, the bell again rings; we form in procession, and
go to church, and sing Vespers and the “Angelus.”

At 6 o’clock the tea bell rings. Tea consists of bread-and-butter, or
jam, or treacle, and tea. At 6.30 the bell again rings for conference
(“Lives of the Saints”).

At 7.30 the bell rings for compline, which often lasts till 9 o’clock,
for there is compline to sing, _De Profundis_, prayers for the dead,
litany of the blessed Virgin, and hymn and prayers to our holy Father
St. Benedict, meditation, and the closing hymn, after which we go in
procession, singing “Ave, Maria,” to the dormitory, when each sister,
kneeling at the entrance of her cell, closes her eyes, and sings:

Mother of Jesus, night is come,
And wearily we fall to sleep;
Ask Him to guard our cloister home,
From powers of ill His flock to keep.
Ave, Maria; Ave, Maria; Ave, Maria.

We then undress, perform our ablutions, redress, praying at each holy
garment we put on; finally we lie down, making the sign of the cross, and
saying, “I will lay me down in peace,” etc. The “peace” is a query. It
was more often “I will lay me down in sorrow,” worn out in mind and body,
and thus closes the peaceful, perfect, sublime, happy, holy day!

In summer the rule differs a little, and is not quite so strict. But
during the season of Lent it is much stricter, and we only have the 9
o’clock pittance, and one meal at 5 o’clock, and we actually rise in the
morning at 1.45, and do not rest any more till night. On Ash Wednesday we
had nothing to eat or drink until six o’clock in the evening; we stayed
in church practically the whole of the day. The floor of the church
is strewn with ashes and cinders from the grates, and we sit on the
ground in the ashes instead of in our stalls.[16] The 6 o’clock meal is
scarcely touched, as every one is feeling too cold and ill to eat. After
compline we have to lash ourselves with the “Discipline,” and then we
have to go to bed unwashed, as a penance for our sins. We are not even
allowed to shake the ashes out of our serge habits before retiring for
the night; to do so would be to break solemn silence, so we actually
sit in ashes all day, and sleep in them all night. On Good Friday we go
through a somewhat similar day, but the ashes are dispensed with. Every
day, over and above the divine office and prayer, continual supplication
for the conversion of sinners, and for the dead, are offered, each person
taking an hour’s watch before the reserved Sacrament, so that the church
is not left from 5 a.m. till 10 or 11 p.m.

I recollect how a poor orphan boy at Llanthony monastery was almost
always in disgrace, and had to endure the “Discipline.” The lads, when
doing penance, were stripped, then laid on a long table, their faces
downwards, and lashed for such faults as talking in silence time,
slamming doors, leaving dust about.

Another little boy, of nine or ten—motherless—his father a dipsomaniac,
after being at the monastery four or five years, was turned out and sent
to London, to do the best he could, with only 2_s._ 6_d._ in his pocket.
Father Ignatius said Bertie was a perfect little devil. But I can assure
the reader that the end of all the boys was very much like this. Sooner
or later they are turned out, or else they run away. The two mothers at
the Llanthony convent were constantly dropping down on the boys, when
Father Ignatius was away, for breaking solemn silence, and made even
the youngest of them recite the Psalms aloud, after they were tired
out by the long service of compline. Very little children, I know, had
constantly to go without their breakfast as a penance. I remember well
two dear little children, Ada and Alice ⸺. They were sent to the convent
by their father, a tradesman in Hereford, who doubtless thought it a
great privilege to have them there. Alice was only between three and four
years of age. Mother Mary Ermenild had charge of them, and she would lash
them both with the “Discipline”[17] for the most trifling offences. I
often found little Alice holding her arms and crying, and would say to
her (if no one was near to hear me):

“What’s the matter, darling?”

She would hold up her little red arms, and sob:

“Mother Ermenild gave me the ’splin” (she could not say “Discipline”).

Little Ada, too, would constantly be carried to her cell, which was next
to mine, and there laid on the bed, and lashed on her bare flesh by
Mother Ermenild. When the child cried, she would say:

“If you don’t stop that noise, I will give it to you harder.”

Then another lash would come, and then another scream, after which she
would say:

“Are you going to make any more noise? because I will give it to you
again, if you are!”

The child would say:

“No, Mother,” and would try to smother her sobs in the bed-clothes.

Once, being in my cell, I heard this Mother scolding Ada dreadfully, as
a naughty, wicked, disobedient little girl, for touching the ink and
spilling a little (poor child! she had been trying to write a letter to
her father, whom she worshipped). The Mother then made this dear child
lie down, and she gave her seven lashes with the “Discipline” on her bare
flesh, in all forty-nine cuts. Later in the day I went to look at the
table expecting to find it spoilt, but there was only one spot of ink on
it, about the size of a pea. On another occasion I heard her lashing this
poor child, who shrieked so loud that I could not endure it, and I ran to
her, calling out:

“Oh, you—oh, you⸺”

I felt so angry that I did not know what to call her; but I was reported
to the Lady Prioress, and sent for, and severely reprimanded for daring
to interfere, and take a child’s part, and call Mother Ermenild names for
punishing and penancing the child. I was forbidden ever to speak to the
children again on any pretence whatever. This was a great trial to me,
for I loved the children dearly.

Now, when Mother Ermenild first came to the convent, she was a sweet
and gentle girl, but she was first crushed by the life she led, and
then, when power was given her, she became as hard and tyrannical as the
Novice-mistress and the Dame Mary Wereburgh.

_Rule 1._—Never to ask for anything that is not necessary.

_Penance._—To be kept without it.

_Rule 2._—Never to ask for anything that is necessary a second time,
unless permission to do so be granted by the Superior.

_Penance._—To be kept without it.

_Rule 3._—Never to hold possession of, or make use of, anything, unless
given or lent by the Superior.

_Penance._—To hold it up before the Blessed Sacrament for a week, at the

_Rule 4._—Never to touch or look at a book, letter, or newspaper, unless
holy obedience compels us to do so.

_Penance._—To wear such article tied round the neck for two days.

_Rule 5._—Never to look at, or speak to, a secular or extern,[18] unless
commanded by holy obedience to do so.

_Penance._—To confess it at once, and to repeat exactly what we have said.

_Rule 6._—In speaking to a secular or extern, to do so with eyes fixed on
the ground.

_Penance._—To be blindfolded at each office on the following day.

_Rule 7._—Never to go beyond enclosure, or the bounds permitted by holy

_Penance._—To be confined to our sleeping-cell for a week.

_Rule 8._—Never to speak about our Superiors to others.

_Penance._—To confess it at once, and mention what we said.

_Rule 9._—Never to allow criticising thoughts upon the action of a
Superior to _dwell_ on the mind.

_Penance._—Not to be allowed to genuflect to the Blessed Sacrament for
two days.

N.B.—To a nun this is an awful penance, as she has been taught
that the “Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity” of Jesus Christ
are there present in the reserved Sacrament in the tabernacle.

_Rule 10._—If we have a tendency to criticise a Superior’s wisdom or the
correctness of any action, to believe that thereby our Lord is injured
and the vocation weakened by such thoughts, since we are under our
Superiors in and for the Lord, and that the Lord reveals His will only
through our spiritual Father or Mother.

_Rule 11._—To conceal nothing, even our most inmost thoughts, from the
abbot, or abbess.

_Rule 12._—Never to repeat anything said to us by our Superiors, unless
commanded to do so.

_Penance._—To confess it at once.

_Rule 13._—Never to speak unnecessarily during “silence,” and, when
necessary, only while kneeling upon both knees, with the hands under the
scapular, the eyes fixed on the ground, and the words we speak must be
uttered in a soft whisper, “for the Lord is in His holy temple, let all
the earth _keep silence_ before Him.”

_Penance._—To recite five psalms at recreation for each breach of this

_Rule 14._—To obey the convent bell as the voice of an angel calling us.

_Penance if late for matins._—To recite the whole of the Lamentations of
Jeremiah, kneeling.

_Rule 15._—Never to be late at meals, choir, dormitory, or work.

_Penance._—If late at meals, to eat off the floor; if late for choir,
to kneel at the door during the office; as to the rest, any penance the
Superior likes to impose.

_Rule 16._—Never to speak about home or our earthly relations, except to
God in prayer: “Forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house; SO
shall the King have pleasure in thy beauty.”

_Penance._—Any one the Superior LIKES to appoint.

_Rule 17._—To be joyful and ready in our obedience.

_Penance._—To confess it at once, and wear front scapular pinned over the
left shoulder for two days.

_Rule 18._—Never to excuse ourselves if in fault.

_Penance._—To kneel in front of the altar, _holding a large crucifix_ at
every office, for one day.

_Rule 19._—Never to excuse ourselves, even if unjustly accused of any
fault, unless it be necessary for God’s glory that the true offender
should be discovered.

_Penance._—Same as 18.

N.B.—Our Superiors never did think it for God’s glory that we
should give any reason or explanation (so that this part of the
rule is nothing else than a farce). Under this rule they would
keep us on our knees for hours.

_Rule 20._—To receive the words of our Superior humbly kneeling.

_Penance._—Any one the Superior likes.

_Rule 21._—Never to be demonstrative in our affections, even towards a
spiritual sister.

_Penance._—Not to be allowed to speak to such sister for any length of
time our Superior likes to appoint.

_Rule 22._—To zealously observe our distribution of work, and to do so
wholly to the glory of God, keeping before us the memory of eternal
years, our reasons for entering holy religion, and so to glorify God and
benefit His holy Church.

_Penance._—To lose our recreation.

_Rule 23._—Never to touch food or water out of meal times.

_Penance._—To wear a piece of bread tied round the neck for two days, and
to go without the next meal.

_Rule 24._—To keep our affections and interests perfectly detached from
all things, so that our whole hearts may be given to the Lord.

_Penance._—If we broke this rule by getting attached to a picture, or any
other trifle, our Superiors would deprive us of it.

N.B.—If we had anything they especially wanted, they would take
it from us, as they had (so they said) noticed us breaking
the rule; and of course we dared not murmur, as that would be
transgressing our vow of holy poverty.

The last two of the forty-nine rules are as follows:

_Rule 48._—To read over these observances each day, with the _intention_
of making them known to our Superior at the close of each week.

_Penance._—To write out the whole of these forty-nine observances at

_Rule 49._—In confessing our breaches of these observances to state them
thus, _e.g._: “On Sunday, I transgressed observance ⸺ by secretly feeling
annoyed at being told to do such and such a thing. Jesus only.—‘They
shall go from strength to strength, until they all appear before God

These forty-nine observances (with their penances) were given to us by
the abbot, and written out for us by him, with about forty-nine others.
The Superiors being above the rule, there is no occasion for them to keep
them, though they are very, very strict in seeing that their subjects do
so, and were always dropping down on us at every nook and corner, and
making out that we had broken them, when all the time we were trying our
best to keep them.

We were the slaves; they were the taskmasters, and very hard ones too.